John Stossel, one of the few TV reporters who asks objective and meaningful questions of people, recently asked a woman in favor of government regulation of the banking/mortgage industry to defend her views. He pointed out that government requirements or “incentives” to compel the lending industry to lend money to people who cannot afford houses is essentially “extortion.” It also created a housing bubble which ultimately destroyed the housing industry for everyone, both the rich and the “poor minorities” the regulation was supposed to help. Private industry got all the blame, but government policy (under both Clinton and Bush) actually created the disastrous real estate bubble. More than that, government regulation of this kind continues in the present day, even after the worst market crash since the last government-induced economic calamity — the Great Depression. When asked to defend this policy of extortion, the woman (a regulator within the federal government) merely replied, “It’s not extortion. The government gives us the right to it.”
There you have it. The basis for slavery, the basis for concentration camps or any other totalitarian policy: If the government gives you the right to do something, then you have the right to do it. Government is the standard of truth and justice. Hello?! Has anyone read what most governments have done throughout history? The greatest bloodshed and injustices of human history have been created by government. Am I making a case for anarchy? Of course not. But I am suggesting that government is NOT, never has been and never should be the standard of objective moral virtue.
What would liberal socialists do if, say, a Sarah Palin Administration decided that government should refuse to credential lending banks unless they gave cheap mortgages to Christian churches? The outrage on CNN, MSNBC, in the Washington Post, online at the Huffington Post and at all the major universities would be wide and deep. Don’t get me wrong. I’d be outraged if an administration did that, too. But why should there be any less outrage when government extorts in favor of any other group, for any other reason?
The deeper question here is: Whatever happened to principle? A principle gives you a general rule of thumb to apply across a variety of concrete situations. Principles are crucial in matters related to the initiation of force among human beings. In a rational civilization, human beings are prohibited from raising force against one another. This is why rape, assault, theft and blackmail through physical threats are all against the law. According to this regulator talking to John Stossel in the interview, that principle no longer applies once government passes a law saying it’s OK. By the principle she operates on, rape or assault would be OK — IF the government passed a law allowing government officials to do it. Now, she probably wouldn’t advocate a law in favor of such a thing. But she does advocate laws in favor other things, things she considers good, such as government regulation of the mortgage industry.
America’s founders claimed, many years ago, that the government who governs least governs best. They were right, even though subsequent generations refused to follow this advice. What’s also true is the government that operates on consistent principle also governs best — indeed, is the only morally justified form of government there is. THE principle of a rational and decent government is: No force may be initiated against another human being, at any time. The only time government may use force is to act against someone who has already initiated it — such as when a government arrests a criminal, a terrorist or a rapist. Or someone who openly committed fraud, as in violating a written contract. Government does NOT have a right to take up arms against peaceful citizens and, for example, round them up to go to a concentration camp. Likewise, government does not have a right to take up arms against peaceful businesses and say, “You must have more people of color, or people of low income, getting goods and services from you.” The government that can do one may also do the other. It doesn’t matter if you say, “No, it’s good and decent for government to initiate force to spread the wealth. But it’s wrong for government to rape, murder or intimidate people.” Fools who claim this — or worse, who operate on this idea unchallenged, by themselves or others — are evading the fact that there’s such a thing as principle, and the government that can do one most certainly can do the other. A government who creates a real estate bubble — destroying the economic well-being of millions for years to come — may also place controls on speech, association, assembly … and potentially anything it pleases.
If America becomes a totalitarian state, think of the bureaucrat who said, “The government gives us the right to do it.” The moment government “rights” trump individual rights, freedom goes with it.